Pubdate: Tue, 23 Feb 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Phil Willon


Up Against Billionaire-Funded Bid, Grass-Roots Groups Stand Down.

SACRAMENTO - Devout cannabis advocates and social justice reformers 
believe this may finally be the year California voters legalize 
marijuana, and that optimism has led to a mashup of proposed 
statewide ballot measures - more than 20 filed so far.

They vary from a one sentence constitutional amendment that simply 
declares California adults are free to "grow, own [ and] purchase" 
marijuana to a 62-page treatise on how to best regulate and tax legal pot.

But just one has attracted deep-pocketed donors and leading advocacy 
groups to emerge as the clear favorite to make the November ballot - 
the so-called Adult Use of Marijuana Act. The initiative would allow 
those age 21 and older to possess and use up to an ounce of 
marijuana, making California the fifth state in the nation to 
legalize recreational use.

The momentum behind the measure has been generated mostly by the 
backing of former Facebook president and Napster co-founder Sean 
Parker, who has donated $ 1 million of the $2.25 million raised by 
the campaign.

The initiative's bankroll dwarfs the funds collected by rival 
marijuana initiative campaigns and has prompted a few to abandon 
efforts because they lacked the money to compete.

Momentum behind the Parker-backed initiative was further strengthened 
by an endorsement from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The 2018 Democratic gubernatorial hopeful chaired a blue-ribbon 
commission to determine the best way to legalize marijuana in 
California while still limiting children's access, targeting illegal 
activity and regulating the drug's cultivation and sale.

"We stood down. Basically, he sucked all the funding oxygen out of 
the air, and we were left high and dry," Dale Gieringer, director of 
the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws, said of the Parker donations, tongue firmly in cheek.

Still, these groups take it seriously. "I'd describe it as a hostile 
buyout by a billionaire ... so small growers are going to be in real 
trouble," Gieringer added.

Gieringer was involved in a competing marijuana initiative sponsored 
by the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, also known as ReformCA. 
The group suspended its campaign in December after some of its board 
members opted to join with the Parker-backed initiative.

Of the 20 separate ballot measures to legalize marijuana or expand 
protections for medical marijuana users and suppliers, six already 
have failed to qualify, and supporters of four others have, in 
effect, abandoned their efforts. None yet have qualified for the ballot.

Lynne Lyman, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said 
her organization held more than 100 consultation meetings with local 
governments, law enforcement agencies, environmental leaders and the 
cannabis industry as it drafted a version of the legalization 
proposal. It ultimately joined forces with Parker, who for years has 
been one of its generous financial supporters.

"It was rough and tumble politics - 2015 was not easy for any of us," 
Lyman said. "But in the end, what came out of that was the best 
initiative to have ever been drafted."

The California chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of 
Colored People also abandoned its legalization measure.

Alice Huffman, president of the civil rights organization, said after 
getting "scooped by the Parker initiative" she decided to join his 
effort, and negotiated for changes to address the NAACP's top 
priorities: to end the arrest of thousands of nonviolent cannabis 
users and to resentence those already convicted of marijuana crimes 
that would be reduced or rescinded under the initiative.

"I'm not advocating for the use of marijuana. I'm advocating for 
social justice," Huffman said. "They gave us the f ive or six things 
we asked for."

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, if passed, would prohibit advertising 
targeting minors and would impose a 15% tax on retail sales of the 
drug; the cultivation, distribution and sale of recreational 
marijuana would be regulated by the state, and exporting marijuana 
out of California would be prohibited.

"We have the largest coalition that's ever supported a marijuana 
measure, probably in the country," said Jason Kinney, spokesman for 
the Adult Use of Marijuana Act campaign. "We were determined that 
this measure would be the consensus measure on the ballot regarding 
regulating marijuana.... Not everyone is going to get what they want."

Along with the money from Parker, the political committee running the 
campaign for the measure has received $ 500,000 from Drug Policy 
Action, backed by wealthy investor George Soros. The group also got $ 
250,000 from New Approach PAC, formed by family members of the late 
billionaire insurance executive Peter Lewis of Progressive Corp., 
state campaign f inance records show. Both groups championed 
legalization campaigns in other states and Proposition 19, a 2010 pot 
legalization initiative that California voters rejected 53.5% to 46.5%.

Californians for Sensible Reform, a political committee funded by 
Weedmaps Inc. in Orange County, also donated $ 500,000. Weedmaps, 
founded by Justin Hartfield, maps medical marijuana dispensaries on 
mobile devices.

Hezekiah Allen of the California Growers Assn., which represents 
growers and other businesses in the cannabis industry, fears the 
interests influencing this vote could wipe out California's small 
marijuana operations and lead to the rise of "big marijuana" 
companies akin to the nation's powerful tobacco giants.

"We don't want there to be a Philip Morris of marijuana," he said.

For an initiative to qualify for the November ballot, supporters must 
collect 365,880 petition signatures from registered voters. And 
competition this year is stiff: More than 60 statewide initiative 
campaigns have been authorized to circulate petitions.

Well-funded campaigns have the edge, since they have the resources to 
pay $ 3 or more per signature to hire workers to stand outside stores 
and on street corners corralling bypassers. For those campaigns 
relying on volunteers to pass around petitions, the threshold can be daunting.

"We'll see," said John Lee of Americans for Policy Reform, which has 
two initiatives depending solely on volunteers.

"Our measure, by far, has the most support from the cannabis 
community. We were grass-roots from conception," he said. "But 
there's no money except for the money going to the Sean Parker initiative."

Lee muttered an expletive when asked whether anyone from the 
Parkerbacked initiative had asked for his support.

"They did nothing to reach out to the cannabis community," he said. 
"In fact, people are talking about counter campaigns to oppose it."

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana after 
voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996. Since then, Colorado, 
Washington, Oregon and Alaska have legalized recreational use, to 
varying degrees. Recent opinion polls show Californians are warming 
to the idea of legalization. A 2015 poll conducted by the Public 
Policy Institute of California found 53% of Californians supported 
legalizing recreational use of the drug, a high since polling began.

"There used to be a lot less enthusiasm about legalization," said 
Berton Duzy of Simi Valley, statewide coordinator for one of the 
measures using volunteers and vying for the ballot, the California 
Cannabis Hemp Initiative. "But we're finally getting some traction."

This is Duzy's fourth effort since 2008.

Other groups are trying to keep the recreational use of pot illegal 
and ban privately owned medical marijuana cultivation and 
dispensaries. Instead, they are seeking government-run operations.

"The vast majority of people have no idea of the dangers of today's 
high-potency pot," said Roger Morgan, a Sacramento- area businessman 
supporting the initiative. "If we lose, I feel that California and 
America are never going to be the same."

Under California law, if two or more initiatives on the same issue 
qualify for the ballot, the one that receives the most votes trumps all others.

Dale Sky Jones of ReformCA said f ighting Parker's measure would have 
been costly and could have turned negative in a way that would hurt 
the overall effort.

"We stood down to avoid mutually assured destruction," Jones said. 
"At a certain point, the writing is on the wall. Why fight it? This 
is something we all want."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom